Providing infants with a means of experiencing art hands-on, West Linn artist Kaaren Pixton has left a lasting mark with illustrations for the Indestructibles baby book series.
Pixton said the series was inspired by her own triplet grandchildren, who were infants at the time and were chewing on all of their books and even the family's mail.
'Amy, their mother, told me about it with great frustration because she really wanted books in their life,' she said.
At the same time, Pixton said she'd begun creating collage murals using painted Tyvek, an 'indestructible' material that doesn't tear. She made each of the triplets a book out of collaged Tyvek, which they loved.
'Amy was so excited she said this needed to be out there,' Pixton said.
Amy then got to work and self-published 'Wiggle! March!' 'Flutter! Fly!' and 'Creep! Crawl!' under the business name Tybook in 2006, featuring illustrations by Pixton.
The illustrations were created by painting hundreds of sheets of Tyvek that were then cut and pieced into images and affixed onto colorful, pieced backgrounds.
'The books are unique because they are like paper but can be chewed, tugged on, spilled on (and worse) and then flattened out again,' Pixton said. 'They become leathery and familiar. Babies love them.'
The series has since been picked up by Workman Publishing and continues to be a popular among babies and their parents.
'It is very satisfying to see a baby enjoy my books,' Pixton said. 'They really do look at the illustrations, too. They are wordless, so conversation flows in a natural way with their grownup, or they just examine the book on their own. I love to track their eyes as they take in a picture.'
While she has worked with a variety of media, Pixton said the Indestructible series was her first foray into book illustration.
'Interestingly, it was a long-ago goal, before I had my own family, but my career path led to education and art in the schools,' she said.
Pixton has been worked with schools in and around West Linn for the last 18 years, helping students create a variety of projects, ranging from murals to tile installations. In all, she has created more than 118 permanent art works in schools.
'(Clay) was the first medium I used with children in the schools. We did whole murals and sculptural projects together. Then other mediums wanted to wind themselves in: mosaic, paint, fused glass, metal, … collage,' she said. 'The principals and teachers have given me extraordinary freedom, which is very empowering and really opens up the creative possibilities.'
She said she was able to channel her 'child mind' and receive feedback both from her grandchildren and a preschool class at Bolton Primary School.
Pixton said the process of illustrating the Indestructibles books was a gratifying one.
'It was a pretty joyful experience to create images for babies,' she said. 'I kept them in mind as I worked.'
She said she has plans to continue working locally this year at several regional schools, including teaching clay-modeling techniques to first- and second-graders at Bolton and kindergarteners at Willamette primary schools. She also has a stack of book ideas ready to go.
'It is hard to find a publisher these days, but I feel compelled to pursue this,' she said. 'I have stories to tell.'
No matter the project, Pixton said her work would continue to involve children.
'I learn a lot by listening to children,' she said. 'I have a great respect for their minds and imaginations. This work is a privilege and a joy. My job is to keep my mind open and hang on for the ride.'
For more information about Kaaren Pixton, visit http://kaarenpixton.com. For more information about Indestructibles baby books, visit www.indestructiblesinc.com.